“How can I find good wine for a good value?” This is often the first question I get when I meet someone new and they find out that I’m in the wine industry. It’s a tough question, but there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a deal. In this post, we’ll discuss some factors that affect pricing and some specific terms to look for when seeking a bargain.
Factors that Increase the Price of Wine
Here are a few things that might contribute to increased prices for a bottle of wine:
- Brand Name: some brands are so well known and widely available that they are able to charge higher prices than their competitors offering similar products.
- Trendy or Recognizable Region: when a region becomes widely known or fashionable, the wines from that area become more expensive. Often, these areas are famous for a reason and their wines are well worth the money, but lower-priced alternatives are often available from lesser known or emerging regions.
- Trendy or Recognizable Grapes: when a grape becomes fashionable, it tends to rise in cost. The 2004 movie Sideways featured a character who preferred Pinot Noir to Merlot, which caused prices for Pinot Noir to increase worldwide for several years. It takes a long time for production to adjust to demand, so if you’re looking for a deal, consider avoiding grapes that have recently become popular.
Factors that Indicate Value
- Small, Family-Owned Producers: while many large companies make great wine at a good value, looking for small-scale family wineries can be a good idea. Smaller wineries often offer wines that reflect their own unique, traditional style which makes them exciting to explore and compare. They also tend to lack the resources for extensive marketing which limits their ability to command high prices.
- Estate Grown and Produced: when a wine is grown and bottled by the same winery, you know that the entire process has been overseen by the same people who presumably take pride in their land and work.
- Specific Geographical Indication: the smaller and more precise the geographical indication on the label, the more likely it is that the wine will express unique characteristics resulting from unique growing conditions in the vineyards. While a wine labeled as being from a large area like California may be delicious, it’s often better to find a wine from a particular county, valley, or single vineyard if you’re looking for distinctiveness and quality.
- Traditional or Local Grapes: many wine regions have been using local indigenous grapes for centuries adapted to their climate, culture, and cuisine. It can be difficult to market these wines because many consumers prefer to drink wine made from grapes they recognize. For example, it’s easier to sell Chardonnay than Fiano (a white grape from southern Italy). When a winery persists in selling wine made from lesser known grapes, it can mean that they have a commitment to their stylistic vision and are willing to take on the additional marketing challenge of selling a wine that most people haven’t already had. The lower demand for these wines results in lower prices and better value.
- Unfashionable Grapes: even if a grape is well known, it can still offer good value if it’s out of fashion. As previously mentioned, Merlot has been out of fashion since the release of 2004’s Sideways, and it can be found at great prices. You can enjoy great deals on great wines despite the fictional tastes of a fictional movie character.
- Wine Regions with High Production: some parts of the world have excessive production relative to demand, translating to good value. Australia, for example, has been decreasing production over the past few years in response to a lower demand for their wine. This makes Australian wines good for the money.
- Good Exchange Rate: sometimes the exchange rate between countries can be beneficial to American wine lovers. Argentina and Chile, in particular, are good places to look for bargains.
Specific Recommendations for Value
- Merlot: as stated above, it’s unfashionable right now, and demand is relatively low.
- Australia: over-production provides an opportunity for good deals on almost any style of Australian wine.
- Loire Valley: known for excellent quality and moderate prices partially due to relatively low demand in the US compared with other wines from France. You can find wine in many styles from the Loire including reds, whites, rosés, and dessert wines.
- Southern Rhône: several sub-regions in the Rhône Valley can provide great value since they are not very well known. These areas include Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Costières de Nîmes. The majority of wines from these areas are made from a blend of red grapes.
- South America: Argentina and Chile both produce large quantities and excellent wine at good prices due to low labor costs in production and an exchange rate favorable to the US. Wines in almost any style can be found from these two countries which tend to label their wines according to grape varietal. For example: Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec.
- South African Chenin Blanc: also known as “Steen,” Chenin Blanc has been a major white grape in South Africa for centuries. It’s unfortunately not well known in the US, and demand is relatively low, making it one of the best value whites in the world.
- California: three of the counties in California where great values can be found include Monterey, Paso Robles, and Mendocino counties.
- Spain: has a large number of regions with excellent quality relative to the prices: Toro, Ribera del Duero, and Bierzo are all home to delicious dry red wines. Another Spanish wine offering great value is Cava, a sparkling wine made in the same method as Champagne for a fraction of the price.
- Southern Italy: the south of Italy has historically been poor and disadvantaged. Locals didn’t have the ability to promote their wines in the international markets. Wines from Puglia and Sicily, in particular, can be of outstanding quality for the price. Look for the grapes Primitivo (also known as Zinfandel in the US) or Negroamaro.
- Greece: tough economic times and an unstable political environment have plagued Greece for hundreds of years, making it difficult to make and promote wine. Their climate, however, is second-to-none for quality grape growing, and they have a wealth of native grapes and styles. Try Assyrtiko (a dry wine similar to Chardonnay) or Xinomavro (a red similar to Cabernet). Wines from Greece are reliable regarding quality, and they’re vastly underpriced in the American market.
- Beaujolais: a sub-region in Burgundy, Beaujolais suffers from an image problem, as its most recognizable wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, is an inexpensive simple wine that doesn’t represent the complexity, quality, or diversity of the region. Great Beaujolais can be found from the ten Cru villages like Juliénas, Moulin-a-Vent, or Morgon. These wines are made from a grape called “Gamay” that’s similar to Pinot Noir, being relatively light, dry, smooth, and fruity.
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